Blast from the past: The curse of the hurdles

Gail Devers of the United States stumbles and falls across the finishing line after clipping the10th hurdle in the Women's 100 metres Hurdles final during the XXV Summer Olympic Games on 6 August 1992 at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by James Meehan/Getty Images)
Gail Devers of the United States stumbles and falls across the finishing line after clipping the10th hurdle in the Women's 100 metres Hurdles final during the XXV Summer Olympic Games on 6 August 1992 at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by James Meehan/Getty Images)

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and wonderful stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear on your cheek. This week: Gail Devers' curse of the hurdles.

First time: unlucky

Gail Devers began the 1992 Olympic Games 100m hurdles final as one of the big favourites, along with Yordanka Donkova. She had completed a remarkable season in 1991, after overcoming a rare autoimmune condition a year earlier - Graves disease. A few days before the final, Devers had surprisingly won the 100m sprint final, beating Juliet Cuthbert by mere millimetres. Everything pointed towards another gold medal… until the final hurdle. The American athlete hit the hurdle, falling over and handing the title to the Greek sprinter Voula Patoulidou.

Devers' Olympic journey not without the odd setback
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Second time: too slow

But Devers is not the type of person to give up. Over the next four years she won everything possible in her favourite discipline, including World Championship titles in 1993 and 1995. At Atlanta, her home Olympics, she was odds-on to win a gold medal in the hurdles. Once again, she triumphed in the 100 metre sprint, beating Merlene Ottey in the most closely disputed final ever. But once again, she failed at winning the hurdles, finishing only fourth in the final.

Third and fourth time: injured

You may have thought Devers would give up and let the curse win. She didn’t. At Sydney 2000, aged 33, Devers was once again the fastest hurdler going into the Olympics, having won the world title a year before. She even beat her personal best with an impressive time of 12.33 seconds. Surely nothing could stop her this time? Unfortunately, not every story has a happy ending. On this occasion, the dream ended with Devers pulling up in the semi-final with a torn hamstring. “Today was someone’s else turn to shine. But that does not mean Gail Devers’ dream is over,” she commented. After three failed attempts, Devers still coveted an Olympic hurdles medal. And so she tried again in Athens, qualifying at age 37. Unfortunately, in her final Olympics a calf injury stopped her from reaching the final. Strangely, Devers ended her career with three Olympic gold medals, yet her memories of the Games may still have left a bitter taste in her mouth…